Beverly Johnson decided to become a brand way before “branding” became a well-known marketing phrase. “I can go back to Newsweek in 1975 when I began modeling,” Johnson told theGrio. “People asked me, ‘what do you want to do,’ and I said ‘I want to be a brand’ before it became popular. I have been pretty fortunate.”
Fortunate indeed. Thirty-seven years after becoming the world’s first black supermodel, Johnson is now parlaying her famous name into a series of new beauty products, including hair extensions, hair care and beauty lines. Johnson sat down with theGrio to talk about developing these products as part of her own lifestyle company, in addition to other exciting projects including a film and reality show.
After years of being paid merely to be an endorser, “I decided to own the box my pretty face is on,” Johnson said about her hair and beauty lines. Falling under the Beverly Johnson lifestyle brand, these ventures represent the former catwalker’s first forays into the business world as a luxury product creator — and company owner. The full suite of beautifiers — available now at BeverlyJohnson.com — includes her Hair by Beverly, Flawless Skin, and Beautiful Body collections.
To top off this coup, Johnson’s line will soon be available in Target stores in the spring.
“To do that at the age I am now — I always thought, I don’t have an MBA, it’s too much work, I like just going to the mail box and getting a check,” Beverly said of previous deals. “But I decided that this is something I always wanted to do. And I am doing it.”
Even as the 59-year-old leaps into entrepreneurship at an age when many hope to retire, she maintains her influence in the current world of fashion. Her most high-profile role in the world that launched her career is as a former judge on Tyra Bank’s America’s Next Top Model.
Of Banks, the model matron told theGrio, “I always knew she was going to be really successful. She’s a terrific lady.” Johnson also praised ANTM for its effervescent fun; plus, her appearances prepared the ageless beauty to star in a reality series of her own.
Launching in the spring, Beverly’s Full House will feature Johnson and her daughter Anansa Sims. The show examines the complexity of their mother-daughter relationship after Anansa moves into Johnson’s home with her family.
“What an opportunity to tell Anansa my story,” Johnson beamed about filming the OWN network show. “Because I was divorced from her father when she was very young, I wanted her to know about what happened to me. Maybe some of the stories that I would tell her would be helpful to her when she is raising her daughter.”
In the process, Johnson learned a lot about herself — particularly how to better communicate with her daughter.
“There’s a lot of take away in terms of communication tools, and more so how to listen,” Johnson said of living with her daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law while building her new companies. “And even better how to listen when people speak.”
For these reasons, Johnson calls her television project a “constructive reality show,” which promotes positive family values as opposed to the legion of shows that glorify scandal.
Also in 2012, Johnson will appear in Tyler Perry’s latest opus, Good Deeds.
“To see him acting and directing, to see him in that world, it was just great to be around him,” Johnson said of working with Perry. “And Gabrielle Union, who plays my daughter, who I love and adore — it was just a great experience.”
Johnson is now fulfilled after becoming the brand she always wanted to be. But it was a long road from merely modeling to enjoying full self-expression as an actress and business owner. Basking in the family glow — enhanced by the birth of her granddaughter, Eva — she offers these words of wisdom to others seeking to live the life of their dreams.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Johnson warned. “And really make sure it’s what you want, because you don’t want to be exploited.”
Not that Johnson has been exploited. She had to make choices to forge her own road with integrity, and this had its costs.
“I’ve been very fortunate, but I’ve turned down a lot. I remember when I said that I’m not going to represent cigarette and liquor ads anymore,” Johnson recalled. “And that was a time in the business when that’s where you made your money. My agents weren’t very happy. But I said I’m not going to put that message out there anymore.”
“I’ve paid a price. But I’m happy I did what I did.”